A change of perspective?

A survey of 3,500 employees across organisations in the UK, US, and Canada[1] recently found that over a third of employees admit that they are productive for less than 30 hours a week. This should be concerning for all employers in these regions, but what does it specifically mean for those in the United Kingdom?

The working week in this country is typically at least 35 hours – with many extra hours often worked in voluntary and/or paid overtime. So if this survey is indicative of the UK culture, then this non-productive time may be a rather large slice of the working day. This would be concerning at any time, but is much more worrying given the nations impending departure from the European Union, and the ongoing Productivity deficit of the UK when compared to other major economies.

This should therefore be a major worry for employers, and one that clearly needs to be urgently tackled.

Yet the survey also provided some evidence of what may be a genuine disconnect between what employers think will improve employee engagement and productivity, and what the actual workers say they value.

For instance those employers who seek to engage their employees with “trendy” workplace gimmicks may well be fighting a losing battle. Offering office games was seen as a distraction by more than half of respondents, and only 5% valued a table-tennis table in the workplace. And, with the office party season about to begin, it was very interesting to note that more than 9 in 10 employees (91%) failed to value the company outing.

This last finding is perhaps the most important of the three. The company outing has long been seen as a staple of workplace “bonding” and employee engagement in the United Kingdom. Yet this tradition is probably based on the working-world that today’s decision makers and senior management encountered when they were first entered the workforce some years ago. It could therefore be argued that such outings reflect the workplace of the last century better than that of 2017 and beyond. And – if so many employees are admitting that this approach is not appreciated – then the wisdom and costs of following such a policy must surely be due a major overhaul.

So if the received managerial wisdom of employee engagement is no longer relevant, then what is?

Flexible and remote working was highly valued by 81%, and 66% cited being valued and recognised as the most important aspect of employment. It also seems likely that employees would value a greater say in their workplace, with almost half (47%) never being asked by their employer how the can improve their working experiences.

Follow all the above to a logical conclusion and it seems evident that the ties, bonding, and approach of the traditional workplace environment are perhaps becoming less important in achieving engagement, and by extension productivity, than they once were.

None of the above should be a surprise in the workplace of the 21st Century, and employers really should be looking towards new and/or better methods of engagement with their workforce.

What is apparent is that flexibility, recognition, genuinely open dialogue – and of course an appropriate remuneration and rewards offering that is well communicated, used, and understood – may now be the key areas for employers to focus on to improve productivity. To achieve this goal many organisations may have to consider a culture-shift from an office-centric engagement policy to a more flexible approach which engages all employees.

1 ”Why your workforce isn’t working”; Sage People; October 2017